I have lived in the southern part of San Francisco; alternatively called the Outer Mission, the Excelsior, the Crocker-Amazon, the Geneva corridor, my entire life. When I was wee baby Neanderthal my parents, who bought the small house in the late 1970s, gardened in the large backyard. I say gardened- more like farmed. They both worked hard jobs and in their spare time they grew tomatoes, zucchini, beans, carrots, lettuce, strawberries, and even corn. One of my earliest memories was being only a few years old and playing among cornstalks in an urban backyard. They terraced the yard and grew their veggies right in the dirt, after having heavily amended it with manure and hard labor.
This is not a new use for this part of San Francisco. My whole neighborhood at the turn of the last century was farm land and greenhouses with a few houses strewn in. But the area got developed after World War II, as San Francisco expanded. The house was even marketed to my parents as perfect because even though it was only a 2 bed 1 bath, it had plenty of room to expand in the back. My parents viewed it as an oasis, instead of room to build a third bedroom.
Of course, after my birth, money got tighter and suddenly there was no spare time. By the time I was in middle school, the back was just well terraced dirt with a few remaining fruit trees. Once in while dad might put in strawberries, but it wouldn’t be until I was much older that the garden would be a garden again. I started a few years back with a dedicated herb area. I tried a few tomato plants one year- but between the aphids and the soil having been depleted by years of drought, nothing lasted long. So I took classes, read books, and in between college and surgeries and well, life- I started a few raised herb beds with medium success. Earlier this year, as I approach my long awaited graduation, and with the knowledge that due to some health issues the vegetables my mom could eat was now limited, I got a raised bed for spinach. Then one for beans and pac choi. It quickly spiraled out of control so now I have two raised herb beds, a double raised vegetable bed in the back, the large square spinach bed, and multiple pots and other containers ranging from a weedy dill plant to 6 pepper plants and the celebrated mint thunderdome. And I’ll probably be putting in some more. Container or raised bed gardening is much less backbreaking then what my parents did, and importantly it saves water too.
So join this humble Neanderthal as I garden in one of the most beautiful places in the world. And watch as I try to turn a scraggly backyard into an oasis once more- and eat pretty well out of the deal.